Nostalgia: Ocean City, NJ

Ocean City, NJ boardwalk coming from 4th street.

Honestly, I’m not typically one for nostalgia.  I tend to forget a lot of my childhood, not because it was bad and I need to block it out, quite the contrary.  I think I don’t remember a lot because it was actually very good, and quite frankly, my life has been so far.  My low points have all been caused by my mind, which has been difficult and confusing but as I have become more and more aware over the years the low points are much more fleeting.  My childhood fears were all created in my mind.  I know that now, so they don’t really affect me anymore.  Nonetheless, I forget things.  I tend to live them and move on.  Don’t get me wrong though, I will have moments of nostalgia and relive great, scary, or bad memories. I just don’t live in those memories, in the past.

 

One of those moments of nostalgia hit me while driving down the Garden State Parkway the other day.  Kait, Weston and I were on our way to Ocean City, NJ for the week. Weston’s first vacation and beach experience.  The Garden State Parkway, in South Jersey, has always been a drive that I have loved.  In the summer the north and south bound highway is lined with lush green grass and trees, that just always seem so vibrant.  For some reason, the vibrancy of the green nature is so apparent and appealing to me on this road. I used to drive down this road a lot more when I was younger, but not as much in recent years.  The vibrancy hit me that day, and I actually took my sunglasses down a few times to make sure it wasn’t just the lenses creating this intense green.  I also noticed wildflowers growing in the middle.  I love the pure nature of wildflowers.


Side Note: I despise driving on the Garden State Parkway in north Jersey.  I try to avoid it as much as possible when we go to visit Kait’s family.


So while driving, this nostalgia hits me.  In the ’90s my family took vacations to the Jersey shore town of Ocean City, most years of that decade.  For at least five or six of those years, my Mommom would rent a house for two weeks and two to three families, plus her, would jam into this tiny house (typically with three bedrooms).  It would be anywhere from 9-13 people. Those were great trips, hanging out with my cousins all day every day.  Especially my cousin, Chris.  We are still close today.

We went to the beach pretty much every day to play in the water, sand, skim board, boogie board, wave surf, and chill.  I would always want to leave the beach early. I used to love going back to an empty shore house, eating, showering, and sitting on the balcony while no one else was around.  I needed my alone time even when I was young.  However, before I was old enough to go to the house myself, I was just forced to stay on the beach until someone else left.  My Mom always liked to stay late on the beach, so I remember doing that with her too.  But, I remember that feeling of freedom when I was finally old enough to go to the house alone.  I loved the quiet, away from all of the noise.  I still do.

I remember when my cousin, Danielle, was born.  She is about eight years younger than me, so we would help lug all of her stuff back and forth the five blocks or so to the beach.  Now, on the very day that I was driving down the shore, my now 26 year old cousin got engaged.  And now, I am driving my wife and five week old son down to the same very town, luging all of his necessities with us.  Though we try to be minimal, he still needs stuff.  And the bassinet for the stroller is just so damn big.

Me and Weston

For whatever reason, my Mommom stopped renting the houses, but my parents continued for a couple of years.  Those years I was allowed to bring friends down with me, we were now in middle school. The last summer that we did it was probably 1999, the summer before freshman year of high school.  The one thing I vividly remember about that summer was driving in my sister’s boyfriend’s car, they were about three and a half years older than me.  He was driving me and my friends when I recall being introduced to Bob Marley for the first time.  Bob Marley continues to be one of my favorite artists, hands down.  His songs still hold a tremendous amount of meaning today, as the issues he sang about are still extremely relevant…unfortunately.  When I was younger, I never fully understood why No Woman, No Cry was one of his biggest hits.  I don’t think I ever really listened to the lyrics and I really only ever heard the live version from the Legend album.  However, a year or two ago I read So Much Things to Say: The Oral History of Bob Marley.

So Much Things to Say really introduced me to a much deeper understanding of Bob Marley and his music.  I listened to his albums, all of the originals, like I never had before.  Listening to the Natty Dread album, I heard the studio version of No Woman No Cry, and I got it.  In that moment, it blew me away.  I must have listened to the first four songs of that album over and over for weeks: Lively Up Yourself, No Woman No Cry, Them Belly Full (But We Hungry), Rebel Music.  But especially No Woman No Cry, and usually Them Belly Full, because it went right into it and the message is so poignant.

So, No Woman No Cry, especially the Natty Dread version, for whatever reason, has become one of my favorites.  That version is faster than the live one.  I feel the passion and love the way he annunciates.  The song is a story about living in Trenchtown, Jamaica.  He remembers when they would make corn meal porridge to share with everyone as they sat in the government yard in Trench Town observing the hypocrites of the government. … Georgie would make the fire lights, wood burning through the nights. … In this great future, you don’t have to forget the past. … He is referring to the great memories he had of those nights.  His feet are his only carriage, no money for anything else, but he has to keep pushing through to reach change and get to where he wants to go. … No woman, don’t cry, don’t worry. Everything is going to be alright.


Side Note:  So Much Things to say is a book written about Bob Marley by people who knew him.  The author knew him and he interviewed many people who did, so it is their version of Bob and his life.


 

Anyway, so I’m driving down the Garden State Parkway with Kait and Weston, listening to the radio.  We hardly drive these days, so we do tend to listen to the radio when do.  I put on WXPN, the NPR station in Phila., and No Woman No Cry is playing.  The full on nostalgia feelings hit me.  It was a beautiful moment, right back to that summer in the car listening to Bob Marley for the first time.  XPN happened to be doing a 1975 day, where they were playing all songs from that year.  XPN took us into Ocean City, with The Band followed by Bob Dylan taking us over the 9th street bridge.

Since that last summer with my family in 1999, this is the first full week I will have spent down at the Jersey Shore.  20 years later, whoa.  Through high school, college, graduate school, and into my mid 20’s I would go down for nights, weekends, and long weekends with friends.  Ocean City is a family oriented dry town, so I didn’t go there much.  Instead I went to the more party friendly towns of Sea Isle and Avalon, mostly.  My friend’s parents also had a house in Brigantine, so that was frequented too.  Atlantic City and Belmar were also in the mix.

Kait’s family always spends a few weeks of their summers in North Truro, Cape Cod, so we go there for a week every other year now.  I have become more familiar with the Cape, which I love too.  It’s much more rustic, we see foxes and even saw a coyote running down the middle of the street last year.  I love taking the ferry for a day trip to Nantucket or Martha’s Vineyard. And we enjoy taking the short ride to Provincetown many days of the week. Cape Cod is full of character, nature, and simple living (though it is extremely expensive).


Side Note: I spent a week on the Cape with my family in college, exploring it all including Nantucket and Martha’s Vineyard.  I then spent a week with my friend Nick and his Dad on their boat docked in Martha’s Vineyard.  We drove the boat from Boston to Martha’s Vineyard.  We spent some time on Nantucket too.  All fantastic experiences.


 

Cape Cod and the Jersey Shore are very different.  These southern Jersey shore towns have become so built up over the years.  Many of the older smaller houses have been replaced by pretty generic looking large houses with similar aesthetics finished with those composite plastic materials. Some of the old Victorians and bungalows remain, but many need serious rehab. The worst error for building was probably in the ’90s and ’00s. Developers would buy houses and land and put up a bunch of the same house and over charge, jacking up the prices for everyone and reducing the uniqueness.  Many of the newer custom houses seem to have more character, but all of the houses have been crammed into every possible nook and cranny.  Price points are high for buying and renting.  In general, though, the new houses lack the character of the old, in this new error of waste and money grubbing.

Similar aesthetic newer homes in Ocean City.
A bungalow bursting with character holding strong between the newer models.
Another bungalow bursting with character between the newer models.

This week, I heard that there is a conflict in Ocean City because some people want to tear down the 90 year old amusement park on the boardwalk, Wonderland, to put up condos or something of the sort.  That would be terrible.  To me, it would ruin what the Ocean City boardwalk is all about.  The energy would completely change.  I think they should actually put more into the amusement park to make improvements.  Large buildings lining the beachfront or boardwalk ruins the charm.

I am now writing after being down the shore for five days. The first evening, after Weston went to sleep, Kait and I took a walk to the beach and down to Wonderland.  I used to love that place as a kid.  It had all of the fun rides in Ocean City and we got to go once or twice in the weeks that we were down.  I knew it wasn’t the biggest amusement park, but wow I didn’t actually realize how small it is until we walked through it that night.  The rides are all so small!  Especially when compared to Disney and Universal parks, which we have frequented more as of late.


Side Note:  I love rides, all of them.  I always say that roller coasters are like a shot of awareness, they just take me right there to that happiness.  And I’m a huge fan of Harry Potter and Walt Disney, so I love it all for the creativity and visionary work.  But, like the boardwalk in Ocean City, those places suffer from the lack of concern for healthy food options and the impact their packaging, merchandise, and supply choices are having on all of us and the earth.  All of these places are largely targeting a specific demographic that does not care and just wants to spend money on vacation.  Kait and I take all of this into consideration with our purchases and choices no matter where we are.

Me and my brother-in-law with my nieces on a the tiny caterpillar coaster in Wonderland.

I used to love going to the boardwalk as a kid.  The Ocean City boardwalk is lined with stores packed with everything you never need and don’t want a day or two later.  Restaurants are almost exclusively full of tasty but unhealthy food, like the delicious Kohr Bros soft serve ice cream, Curly’s fries, donuts, and endless pizza shops (Manco & Manco, most famously).  Each of the aforementioned have 2-6 locations in about a one mile stretch, because one can’t venture too far or wait in line too long.  Stores are full of plastic.  Plastic wrapped in plastic, wrapped in plastic, which then will be given to you in a plastic bag.  Nothing here seems to be done with a thought about the Earth, other than getting an ocean view.  As the hoards of visitors each stroll about the beaches and boardwalk each day for hours on end, they are contributing to the destruction of the very thing that brought this town and them here in the first place….the ocean.

Kait and I indulged in some of the “food” such as the ice cream, fries, donuts, and played some mini golf.  After months of contemplation and internet searching, I finally bought a longboard.  I had been wanting to get back on a board to cruise around for a while, but Phila. isn’t very enticing for cruising the streets on a longboard.  It’s been great riding it around so far.  Yesterday, I woke up early and rode to the beach to watch the beautiful sunrise.  Then I rode to a store to pick up some veggies.  It was wonderful.

Watching the trends of the youth is always fun and interesting.  This year, most of the teenage girls are wearing the over-sized Rasta Baja hoodies that have been around forever.  The boys seem to be inland suburban kids emulating the beach bum culture with a very East Coast style, walking down the boardwalk with a bluetooth JBL speaker loudly playing some new hiphop that happened to be dropping a lot of fucks as they rolled by us.  I recognized the song and voice but couldn’t place the artist…

IMG_0622
The beautiful sunrise.  Earth is the most incredible.
Kohr Bros soft serve custard – classic orange sherbet and vanilla twist.
Me with my new longboard — The Minimalist Wave X Sector 9

The Ocean City boardwalk that I had always had love for is a platform for the stores, food, packaging, merchandise, and people who are all things Kait and I now actively work to avoid for their impact on our Earth and on our desired life experiences.  We make our choices based on what will allow us to experience life to its fullest, and will also help everyone and everything thrive.  We just wish that more people cared too, because then something would change and we could still all enjoy similar experiences in our own unique ways.  However, we would have better experiences because the collective energy would be positively energized.

 

Perspectives change so much with experience.  The more I observe and explore the experiences of life, the more I love it all.  The more I want to experience it through positivity, and let go of the negativity.  This is why traveling is so wonderful, it introduces us to new perspectives through culture, food, and nature.  This is also why life is so wonderful, especially when we can live in the now instead of in our past or future.  Just be and experience.

I have enjoyed this moment of nostalgia, but this week down in Ocean City is very different than those times in the past.  My perspective has changed based on my experiences and understanding.  This is special in its own way.  I love them both and what I had learned back in the ’90s has helped me make this moment even better for Kait, Weston, and me.  This time we are in a house with my family: my parents, my sister’s family, and us.  Six adults and four children all under four and a half years old.  We won’t do this every year, because we have too many other places in the world we want to experience.  But this was a great holiday for our first with Weston, to prepare us for upcoming trips to Charleston and US Virgin Islands — that is where we decided to explore next.


The only thing missing from this trip, is Avett.  Dogs are not welcome in the rental house.  Leaving him is always the hardest part of traveling, but we left him in great hands – with the very cousin that I shared a lot of these memories with, Chris and his wife, Noelle.)

Avett while I was packing the car for this trip, knowing that we were leaving.

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